South China Sea: Failing to Find Asian Allies, US Invites UK to Meddle

December 16, 2016 (Tony Cartalucci – NEO) – Parroting the US State Department’s rhetoric, almost verbatim to justify the decision, a UK envoy vowed to fly warplanes over, and sail warships through the South China Sea over “concerns” regarding “freedom of navigation there.”

Reuters in its article, “British fighters to overfly South China Sea; carriers in Pacific after 2020: envoy,” would report:

The envoy, Kim Darroch, told a Washington think tank that British Typhoon aircraft currently deployed on a visit to Japan would fly across disputed parts of the South China Sea to assert international overflight rights, but gave no time frame.

Speaking at an event also attended by Japan’s ambassador to Washington, Darroch said that most future British defense capacity would have to be directed toward the Middle East, but added:

“Certainly, as we bring our two new aircraft carriers onstream in 2020, and as we renew and update our defense forces, they will be seen in the Pacific.

The time frame of 2020 assumes that the United States will still have any significant presence in the region, somehow reversing the otherwise irreversible retreat it has been undergoing throughout Asia-Pacific over the past decade.

The US Has Run Out of Friends in Asia, So Brings Along Europe

Client regimes the United States and its European allies have cultivated throughout the region have either turned on them or have been effectively removed from power, or even the prospect of ever holding power again.

The Philippines, quite literally a territory of the United States until the end of World War 2, and a nation that vacillated between independence from and interdependence with Washington for decades since, has recently become more vocal about perceived inequities in Manila-Washington relations. This is primarily because of the much more significant – and growing – ties Manila has with Beijing.

US-backed opposition forces in Malaysia have repeatedly tried and failed to oust the ruling government in street protests led by Anwar Ibrahim’s political alliance under the brand name “Bersih.”

In neighboring Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra and his political opposition party were ousted from power in 2014 and have since been incrementally picked apart through legislative and judicial proceedings. Even as Shinawatra clung to power, Thailand’s establishment began shifting away from Cold War ties with the US and toward closer ties with not only Beijing, but also Moscow as well as its regional neighbors.

In Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party are increasingly hemorrhaging political legitimacy as her followers carry out what could be described as genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority. The United States has cynically elected to draw an increasing amount of attention to this in a bid to prevent Suu Kyi from double dealing with both Washington and Beijing.

Vietnam has recently showed reluctance to sign the US-initiated and dominated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, being one of the few nations in Southeast Asia to have agreed to it in the first place, while Cambodia’s previously pro-Western government headed by Hun Sen has become increasingly vocal about US meddling both in Cambodia, and across the region, openly taking Beijing’s side in the South China Sea dispute.

Even Indonesia finds itself increasingly repelled by America’s overbearing stick and its increasingly unappealing carrot.

Collectively, the region is attempting to rebalance itself to accommodate and cooperate with the rise of China, and create checks and balances in the void America’s mismanaged “Pacific Century” has left.

The Specter of Empire  

It is perhaps ironic that the United States finds itself increasingly isolated in Asia amid its own attempts to isolate Beijing. It is also ironic that it is ending its “Pacific Century” the same way it began, side-by-side European nations attempting to impose Western interests on a region of the planet quite literally oceans away.

However, unlike during the age of empires, the US and any European nation that joins it in Asia-Pacific today, will find a region of the planet on parity with Western technology, wealth and power. Militarily speaking, the number of facilities the US and its European allies can exploit in the region are shrinking both in number and in relative significance to growing Asian military power – including China’s expanding Pacific forces.

However, in addition to military power, the US still maintains vast political and media networks throughout Asia. The US State Department’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) aims to indoctrinate thousands of young Asian students and professionals, provide them with both fronts to operate as well as significant financial and political support to continue their work, all in an effort to transform the region’s values and principles to align with Washington’s interests.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), its subsidiaries, and “aid” organizations like USAID all continue to build opposition fronts aimed at pressuring and altogether overthrowing political establishments across Asia. Together, this signifies a US that may be in retreat, but a US that still poses a potent threat to peace, stability, and prosperity across the region.

The inclusion of British forces in Asia-Pacific to augment US provocations presents a threat to Asian stability. With Asia increasingly trading among themselves and with the rest of Eurasia, instability brought by US-European meddling is perhaps the only threat that could actually undermine “freedom of navigation,” trade, and economic growth – the very things the US claims its presence in Asia-Pacific is meant to protect.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.”

South China Sea: The Cambodia Connection

August 25, 2016 (New Eastern Outlook) – Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, recently condemned US policy for destabilising the Middle East. The Phnom Penh Post in an article titled, “US policy destabilised Middle East, says Hun Sen,” would report that:

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday lauded his own government’s efforts of bringing “peace” to Cambodia without “foreign interference” while calling out the US for destabilising the Middle East, where he said American policy had given rise to destructive “colour revolutions”.

The Post also reported that:

“Please look at the Middle East after there was inteference by foreigners to create colour revolutions such as in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Iraq, where Sadam Hussein was toppled by the US,” the premier said. 

“Have those countries received any achievement under the terms of democracy and human rights? From day to day, thousands of people have been killed. This is the result of doing wrong politics, and America is wrong.”

Cambodia has been under the rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1998. To describe the nation as a “dictatorship” would be fairly accurate. However, unlike the simplistic narratives spun across Western and Eastern media alike, Hun Sen’s rule has been marked by several turn-arounds, at least in regards to foreign policy.

From American Friend to American Foe

It was in 2006 that neighbouring Thailand underwent a military coup, ousting then US-backed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. From 2006 onward, Shinawatra, with significant Western support, attempted to manoeuvre himself back into power, both directly and through a series of proxy political leaders including his brother-in-law and his own sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. The latter would finally be removed from power by a second military coup in 2014.

Throughout Shinawatra’s attempt to return to power, Cambodia served as a base of operations for US-sponsored lobbyists, media operations, Shinawatra’s own political party-in-exile as well as armed terrorists used on multiple occasions to attack Shinawatra’s political opponents inside Thailand.

Relations deteriorated between Thailand and Cambodia so acutely that at one point along the border, with the Preah Vihear Temple conflict serving as a pretext, limited armed exchanges took place leaving soldiers and paramilitary members dead and injured on both sides.

However, gradually, and particularly after the 2014 Thai coup that ousted Shinawatra’s sister from power, Cambodia’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Thailand changed dramatically. Prisoners taken during the temple conflict by Cambodia were released back to Thailand, and a general rapprochement took place.

Simultaneously, relations between Cambodia and China continued to grow, with Phnom Penh showing an increasingly more decisive preference for Beijing over Washington, particularly in regards to the South China Sea conflict. In exchange, Cambodia has received incrementally increasing military support from China, including weapon deals and joint-training exercises.

And at the same time of both of these developments, increasing activity among US-backed nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in Cambodia and US-backed opposition parties began to rally against Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments then, regarding US interference, division and destruction across North Africa and the Middle East, is in direct reference to what he sees as now unfolding in his own country.

Having played a role in aiding and abetting destabilisation efforts in neighbouring Thailand, Prime Minister Hun Sen likely “knows” a colour revolution when he sees one. Like in neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia too has a wide variety of US State Department funded opposition parties and NGOs in place, ready at a moment’s notice to utilise “soft power” against Phnom Penh if ever it drifts too far apart from US interests.

It is clear that the “honeymoon” so to speak, is over between Washington and Phnom Penh, with the latter clearly perceiving the regional lay shifting in favour of Beijing, but fully realising the consequences of shifting with it in regards to Washington’s penchant for toppling governments that no longer serve US interests.

South China Sea: Hun Sen’s Deadly Sin

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s reluctance to venture any deeper into US-backed attempts to destabilise neighbouring Thailand may be one part of why Cambodia is now under pressure. The other is clearly Cambodia’s outspoken support of China in the Washington-Beijing row in the South China Sea.

While other nations within the ASEAN bloc (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) have attempted to remain neutral, with only The Philippines and Vietnam siding more overtly with the US, Cambodia has served as a more overt supporter of the Chinese position.

TIME Magazine lamented in its article, “After Days of Deadlock, ASEAN Releases Statement on South China Sea Dispute,” that:

China has decried the ruling as a farce, and vowed to ignore the court’s decree that Beijing’s so-called nine-dash line, which claims around 90% of the South China Sea, has no legal basis. The Philippines originally wanted the ASEAN communiqué to cite the Hague ruling, but Cambodia objected, leading to days of deadlocked negotiations. In the end, Manila dropped its demands and a joint statement was published Monday.

Not only does this bode ill for America’s attempt to transform The Philippines into a vector of US foreign policy vis-a-vis Beijing, Cambodia’s role in blunting the ASEAN statement and in turn, blunting the impact of the US-orchestrated “ruling” sets an example of disobedience to Washington other nations in the regions are likely taking note of. It is also likely an example Washington would like to prevent from being set again.

It is a good time for policymakers and the public alike throughout ASEAN to examine the various financial and political ties the US State Department maintains with various groups inside Cambodia in order to properly frame the likely uptick in political conflict Prime Minister Hun Sen seems to be anticipating.
While it might be tempting for Cambodia’s neighbours to cynically take advantage of an old adversary’s plight, what Cambodia has now apparently found out, is what’s good for destabilising Thailand, is also good for destabilising Cambodia.

The real path forward for Southeast Asia and Asia as a region, is one of concerted balance against any coercive power, whether it resides in Beijing or Washington, A multipolar regional order that respects national sovereignty but also recognises the necessity of regional harmony may be difficult to achieve, but is essential for moving beyond costly regional rivalries and surviving much larger geopolitical contests of power.

Joseph Thomas is chief editor of Thailand-based geopolitical journal, The New Atlas and contributor to the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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